For the Love of Tradition
|Chef Alain Brigant named his restaurant after his great-grandfather.|
Note (Dec. 31, 2007): Velly has changed owners and is now called Villa Victoria, but apparently has the same chef. Watch this space for an updated review. The telephone number has not changed.
The preparation and sale of food often runs in families, and Velly is a fine example of this tradition. Chef Alain Brigant’s great-grandfather Velly ran a big charcuterie near Place de Clichy in the early 20th century and also, it seems, launched the iconic Pied de Cochon brasserie in Les Halles. Well, the lad’s a credit to his forbears, I must say. The intimate Velly (20 covers downstairs and as many again upstairs) is as pleasant an operation as you could wish for.
The restaurant can be noisy, I’m told, but when I dined there the buzz was very comfortable and friendly. The waiter showed me to a table set for four, which he briskly transformed into a table for two, slightly apart from the others, as I had asked to be kept away from the smokers. With that kind of welcome, you’re always kindly disposed to your hosts.
Once seated, I was able to keep an eye on the unhurried proceedings in the kitchen and read the wine list written up on chalkboards along the wall facing me, which featured a lot of Côtes du Rhône and a generous sprinkling from France’s other wine-growing regions. We drank the “wine of the month,” a southern Côtes du Rhône, which was young, fruity and warming – and a great value at €22.
Choosing what to eat was difficult as it all sounded so appetizing. We started with clams in a herby, hazelnutty sauce, cooked with a slice of ham for additional flavor, and a poached egg on crispy, toasted polenta with a sparky cheese sauce. Both were satisfying, although the clams were excessively salted. We used up plenty of the first-rate, home-baked country bread mopping up the sauces.
For our main course, we chose a slow-roasted souris d’agneau (knuckle of lamb) and a roast fillet of sea bass. Lambs are getting on in age in this season and so have a bigger flavor than their paler Easter brethren. This specimen had been roasted to perfection and practically fell off the bone, but could have been better heated before being placed in its handsome cast-iron casserole with a serving of papardelle pasta tossed with black olives in a highly concentrated, meaty jus.
My fish was slightly overcooked and not as fresh tasting as it should have been, but it came on a bed of spinach that more than made up for that. The fresh, shredded leaves had been given a light coating of hot sesame oil, possibly mixed with a dash of balsamic vinegar, so that they had only just begun to wilt, but retained the crispness and flavor of the uncooked leaf. I felt privileged to be eating it.
The desserts were good too. I had the prunes, which had been delicately poached in a dense red-wine syrup with lots of winter spices and small squares of citrus peel – a lovely palate cleanser. My companion loved her pain perdu (French toast), topped with slices of poached pear and a scoop of caramel ice cream.
Try Velly for French bourgeois cooking at its nearly very best, served in amenable surroundings by people who love what they are doing.
Velly: 52 rue Lamartine, 75009 Paris. Métro: Notre Dame de Lorette. Tel: 01 48 78 60 05. Open Monday-Friday for lunch and dinner (till 11 p.m.). Fixed-priced menu: €31 (watch out for “supplements”).
© 2006 Paris Update
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